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Firefighters advance on blaze that shut Southern California highway

  • LOS ANGELES COUNTY VIA AP
                                In this aerial photo released by the Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations, traffic passes the Route fire, a wildfire off Interstate 5 north of Castaic, Calif., on Saturday.

    LOS ANGELES COUNTY VIA AP

    In this aerial photo released by the Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations, traffic passes the Route fire, a wildfire off Interstate 5 north of Castaic, Calif., on Saturday.

CASTAIC, Calif. >> California highway authorities reopened nearly all lanes of a Southern California freeway today as firefighters made progress on a wildfire that jumped across the road and spread across dry hillsides.

The fire broke out Saturday afternoon near Castaic in northern Los Angeles County. Pushed by 10-15 mph winds, the blaze chewed through tinder-dry brush and jumped across the busy freeway, spread across more than a half of a square mile.

The California Highway Patrol closed a stretch of Interstate 5 for several hours as air tankers dropped bright-orange retardant on the flames.

Two firefighters were taken to the hospital to treat burn injuries, said Andrew Mitchell, a spokesman for the Angeles National Forest.

The fire remained uncontained due to the mountainous terrain, but firefighters made progress overnight with the help of water-dropping aircraft and an aggressive ground attack, Mitchell said.

He said crews will take advantage of the beginning of a cooling trend today to build containment lines.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Meanwhile, residents of a Northern California mountain town devastated by the huge Caldor Fire south of Lake Tahoe will be allowed back today to inspect the damage.

Most of Grizzly Flat’s homes, as well as the school, post office, church and fire station were destroyed in the first days of the month-old fire. Evacuation orders were also lifted for homes along State Route 50 as containment of the 342-square-mile wildfire increased to 65%.

Firefighters were diverted from battling blaze to fight multiple overnight lightning fires when thunderstorms swept across the state Thursday night into Friday.

The thunderstorms dropped light rain to slightly dampen the drought-stricken north, fire officials said.

Up to a half-inch of rain fell on portions of the Dixie Fire, which began in mid-July and has burned through huge swaths of the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades. However, fire officials said the rain is drying fast and vegetation is becoming more flammable.

The second-largest fire in California history has burned 1,500 square miles of land and more than 1,300 homes and other buildings. It was 65% contained.

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